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In NJ-2, 126 years since party last held an open House seat

By David Wildstein, September 29 2018 4:22 pm

Republican Frank LoBiondo will retire from the U.S. House of Representatives in January after 24 years as a congressman.  The winner of the open seat 2nd district race will become just the fourth person to represent the South Jersey seat in the last 50 years.

The 2nd district has a long history of flipping red to blue.  The last time a part held an open seat in this district was 126 years ago, in 1892.

LoBiondo won his seat in 1994 after Democrat William Hughes retired, two years after winning 41.5% against Hughes. An assemblyman from Cumberland County at the time, he beat Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Gormley by a 55%-35% margin in a bitter primary.   He won a 2-1 victory the general election – it was Bill Clinton’s mid-term and a disastrous year for Democrats – and in eleven re-election campaigns, his percentage never dipped below 58%.

Hughes, a former first assistant Cape May County prosecutor, was elected to Congress on his second try in 1974, the year of the Watergate Democratic landslide.  The incumbent was four-term Republican Charles Sandman.  Four years earlier, Hughes challenged Sandman and held him to a 51%-48% win.

Sandman had been elected as Cape May County’s State Senator in 1959, became Senate President in 1964.  He challenged Gov. Richard Hughes in 1965 but lost the Republican primary 50%-47% to State Sen. Wayne Dumont.

Sandman ran for governor again in 1969 and lost a five-candidate Republican primary to another South Jersey congressman, William Cahill, by a 39%-36% margin.  Cahill became the only sitting New Jersey governor to lose renomination when Sandman challenged him in the 1973 GOP primary and beat Cahill by 61,623 votes, 58%-41%.  Then Sandman lost the general in a landslide to Brendan Byrne, 66%-32%, a plurality of 721,378-that left Republicans with ten Senators and fourteen members of the State Assembly.

After returning to Washington, Sandman was a defender of President Richard Nixon as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during nationally-televised impeachment hearings.  Hughes beat him by 30,699 votes, 57%-41%, carrying Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Ocean and Salem counties.  Sandman’s only win was in the Burlington portion of the district, which gave him a 39-vote margin out of 849 total votes cast.

Sandman went to Congress in 1966, defeating a former congressman in the primary and an incumbent in the general.

Republican Milton Glenn had served as an Atlantic County freeholder and assemblyman before winning a 1957 special election to replace Rep. Millet Hand, who had died seven weeks after being re-elected to his seventh term.   He lost the seat in the 1964 LBJ landslide to Democrat Thomas McGrath, who had served briefly as deputy attorney general under Hughes.   McGrath won by 2,267 votes, 51%-49%.

Glenn tried to mount a comeback in 1966, but Sandman destroyed him in the GOP primary with 75% of the vote.

For extreme political junkies who want to go back just a little further: Hand, a former Cape May freeholder, prosecutor and mayor, won an open seat in 1944 when Cumberland County chicken farmer Elmer Wene gave up his House seat after eight years to run for the U.S. Senate.  A Democrat, Wene won 49% in the Senate race, and 47% in his 1949 gubernatorial campaign.  Wene tried to return to Congress in 1950 but Hand beat him 54%-46%.  His career ended in 1953 when Robert Meyner defeated him in the 1953 Democratic gubernatorial primary by just 1,585 votes, 46%-45%.

Wene won the 2nd district House seat in 1936, ousting 11-term Republican Isaac Bacharach by a 50%-46% margin on the coattails of Franklin Roosevelts campaign for a second term in the White House.

Bacharach had been an Atlantic City councilman and assemblyman before toppling Democratic Rep. J. Thompson Baker in 1914 by a 54%-36% margin.  Baker, the first mayor of Wildwood, defeated 10-term Republican Rep. John Gardner by a 43%-33% margin in 1912, the year New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson won the presidency and helped Democrats win 11 of 12 New Jersey House seats.

It wasn’t until 1912 that a congressional district that combined Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties – like the one it resembles today – was established.   Before that, Cape May and Cumberland were part of a Camden County-based district and Atlantic was in a district that went through Burlington into Mercer.

Gardner, who had served as mayor of Atlantic City and as Senate President, was first elected to Congress in 1892, winning a 51%-46% victory for an open seat vacated by Republican James Buchanan, a three-term congressman and former Trenton city councilman.

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